A few years ago, a tie-break question decided the final of
Going For Gold, a pan-European quiz show on daytime television. Quite why I was watching a quiz show of any kind at two on a weekday afternoon, I can't remember; maybe
Supermarket Sweep wasn't on that day. Anyway,
Going For Gold was an admirable concept. Like the continental form of
It's A Knockout, the deeply lamented
Jeux Sans Frontieres, it showed that light entertainment can succeed where politics and economics can fail, by bringing desperate Europeans together in pursuit of a common objective. In this case, a congratulatory handshake from
Going For Gold's amiable host, Henry Kelly.
A few years ago, a tie-break question decided the final of Going For Gold, a pan-European quiz show on daytime television. Quite why I was watching a quiz show of any kind at two on a weekday afternoon, I can't remember; maybe Supermarket Sweep wasn't on that day. Anyway, Going For Gold was an admirable concept. Like the continental form of It's A Knockout, the deeply lamented Jeux Sans Frontieres, it showed that light entertainment can succeed where politics and economics can fail, by bringing desperate Europeans together in pursuit of a common objective. In this case, a congratulatory handshake from Going For Gold's amiable host, Henry Kelly.
As I recall, the final was contested by an Irish woman and a Norwegian man. Unable to separate them, Kelly reached for the tie-break question. You needed a scythe to cut the tension. Enthralled, I stiffened into a semi recumbent position on the sofa. "Name an American state,'' began Kelly, as the two finalists frowned with concentration, "beginning with the letter V.'' The Irishwoman continued to frown, but a flash of relief lit up the Norwegian's face. "Visconsin,'' he cried. And lost.
During the arguments about whether or not we should be part of a federal Europe, I have often thought of that hapless Norwegian and his excited cry of "Visconsin!'' What more poignant illustration could there be, I have frequently asked myself, of the fundamental obstacles to successful European integration?
Like Going For Gold, the drive towards full European union is well meaning but doomed to failure. We might be able to spend our euros from Maastricht to Madrid, but language barriers will remain insurmountable. For all that there are plenty of Americans too, who pronounce Wisconsin with a V, Europe can never be federal in the way that the US is federal.
But on Sunday, when Europe won golf's Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills Country Club near Detroit, Michigan, which coincidentally is not far from either Wisconsin or Visconsin - and in so doing equalled the biggest winning margin since 1979, when the rules of the venerable competition were changed to allow Great Britain and Ireland to include players from East of Dover - I began to wonder.
The difference between the two teams of 12 was not class; not a single player on the European side had won any of golf's four major tournaments even once, while there were five major winners on the American side, not least the still awesome Tiger Woods. No, the difference was teamsmanship.
The triumphant Europeans - comprising five Englishmen, two Spaniards, two Irishmen, a Frenchman, a Scot and an Ulsterman, captained by a German with a Dane as his deputy - functioned as a unit. They advised and supported one another. Together they laughed, gambled, ate, drank and smoked, in moderation of course. Given that the captain, Bernhard Langer, is a devout Christian, they may even have prayed together.
Whatever, both on the course and off, they radiated togetherness. There seemed to be no creeping antipathy between any of them, which is remarkable when you consider that for the remaining 51 weeks of the year, they are all rivals, playing for themselves in the most self serving of sports.
There was no such unity on the American side. For example, it is an open secret in golf that Woods and Phil Mickelson, the best two players on the US team, long ago disbanded their mutual admiration society. Boldly, the American captain, Hal Sutton, paired them together anyway. He said he had known for two years that this would be his strategy. But their body language suggested two men alternatively trying too hard to get along, and then not trying hard enough.
Moreover, their obvious discomfort seemed to infect the entire team. When Woods and Mickelson lost their opening match to Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, two men who manifestly enjoy each other's company, the tone was set for the rest of the three days.
It might be fanciful of me to venture that Europe's politicians could draw some inspiration from the Ryder Cup. But politicians have been known to find inspiration from even stranger sources than golf.
And consider this fact: here was a multinational group, admittedly all speaking English, pulling strongly in a single direction while representing the whole of Europe. They are used to playing every man for himself, yet they embraced the team ethic magnificently. So much so that their cheerful, energetic unity positively unnerved the opposition. There is little doubt, surely, that the members of the European Commission, not a few of whom play golf, could learn a great deal from what happened at Oakland Hills.
On the other hand, if the 35th Ryder Cup is to be used as a template for political progress in Europe, the Eurosceptics are entitled to feel anxious. Especially those that feel America, and not continental Europe, is Britain's most natural ally. For one thing, there would have been no formidable European teamwork in Michigan had there not been a powerful desire to beat the US as emphatically as possible. And for another, this entire shebang was brilliantly masterminded by a German.
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